A lot of my friends and family have been sending e-mails from the U.S. asking about the air here in Beijing. They tell me media reports talk non-stop about the poor air quality, highlighting that record-holding Ethiopian runner Haile Gebrselassie has pulled out of the marathon event because of it.
I'll be honest; the sky always has a constant haze. Even on blue sky days (which are about three or four times a week) it's not completely clear. It almost looks like a light fog. Other days it reminds me of the constantly gray Seattle - but the color can be attributed to dirty pollution rather than misty rain clouds.
I've seen some reports that say after riding in a bus or taxi with the window open one feels filthy. That's not the case. After it rains I always shower because God knows what's in that, but on most days (particularly the dry ones), it's something you can see more than feel.
But then I think of the athletes. They're doing so much more than the everyday bus ride or ducking out of the rain. I take a deep breath, as I imagine some Olympiads would before an important race, and my lungs burn.
Despite this, I decided to get some outdoor exercise last weekend. I'm no track star, but in the U.S. I try to jog a few times a week, and I figured it would be worth a shot to get a sense of what the athletes are going through as they train.
I set out on a light run Saturday morning, which was a sunny day. I jogged for about 40 minutes straight and had no problems at all. There was no shortness of breath or wheezing. It felt like any other run I'd go for in the U.S.
On Sunday my throat was sore. I've been much more congested here than at home and I felt it even more that day. It wasn't anything that kept me home in bed, but I could imagine it being quite taxing on someone who wakes up to hours of outdoor exercise every day.
It's true, the air quality isn't up to par, and Beijing knows that. The city has some back-up plans that aim to improve the air, which they will be implementing at the last minute. These may or may not work, but either way, I don't think the pollution is bad enough to hinder most athletes' performances.